Child support is one of those refreshing areas of law where there are black and white, hard and fast answers. As long as we know what numbers – regarding your income and your child’s father’s income, daycare expenses, health care expenses, etc – we can quickly and easily compute child support.
From that point, it doesn’t matter whether your attorney runs the guidelines, his attorney runs the guidelines, or the judge runs the guidelines – the number that pops out of the formula will be the same. There are very few areas of law that provide the same clarity as child support, so it’s good to be aware of and enjoy the straightforward nature of this particular part of family law.
What goes into a child support calculation?
As you’re already aware, and we already briefly touched on, there are certain numbers that go into a child support calculation. Specifically, we use the income of both parents (which includes any spousal support or alimony you may be receiving as part of your separation and/or divorce), any support paid for children of other relationships, the amount paid each month in work related childcare, and health insurance premiums for the children only.
We also enter in the number of children. Two children isn’t double the child support you would receive for one, but it does increase support the more children you share in common.
Since the numbers that go into the formula are different, the support you would receive (or the support he would pay) for different children from different relationships would be different, too. This isn’t about being equal among different children, it’s about using the resources of the parents to maximize the best interests of the children those two parents share in common.
Primary Physical versus Shared Physical Custody
It also matters what kind of physical custodial arrangement you share with your child’s father. In a primary physical custody scenario where you have primary physical custody, you’d receive the maximum amount of child support.
In a shared physical custody scenario, child support is based on a sliding scale. Depending on how many days you have the children in a calendar year, you’d receive more support. The more days he has, though, the less you receive. Shared custody can mean anything from 90 days with the noncustodial parent to an equal split of the year at 182.5 days, so it can make a difference for child support purposes.
To get an idea what the difference might mean, let’s run a couple different guideline scenarios so you can see how it impacts support.
Let’s take a husband who is earning $100,000, a Wife who earns $50,000, work related childcare expenses of $1000, and health insurance expenses of $100, paid by dad, for one child. In a primary physical custody scenario, that gives me a child support guideline calculation of $1453 per month. With two children, that goes up to $1848, so you can see that the addition of the second child only increases the monthly obligation by $395 a month. Of course, if there were additional work related childcare expenses for that child, it would go up more – but I’m trying to keep things consistent so you can see general trends.
Let’s look now, using those same numbers, at shared physical custody, with dad having 90 days exactly. Assuming all the same numbers, guideline child support would be $1356. With two children, it’s $1706.
If Mom and Dad split the year equally and share custody 50/50, it changes the numbers even more. With one child, shared 50/50, and all the same numbers included, child support is $923. For two children, its $1,062.
So, obviously, the custodial arrangement makes a huge difference in terms of the child support award.
Could I have to pay child support to him?
Yes, of course! Keep in mind that the examples I used above reflect a family where dad earns twice as much as mom. In the event that you are earning more, particularly in a shared custody situation, or a case where the child’s father has primary physical custody, you would almost certainly have to pay child support.
I can’t run even type of possible guideline here, so it’s a good idea to consult with an attorney to get an idea of what guideline child support would look like in your case.
Could child support be $0?
Yes! I haven’t had that actually happen, but it is theoretically possible, especially in a case where the parties have relatively equal incomes, and share the child 50/50. In that case, it wouldn’t be that there’s NO support; there’s always support – it’s just that the support would be considered covered by each party during the time they had the child in their care.
The theory here – and the theory behind child support being less in a shared custody arrangement – is that, the more time the child spends in your care, the greater your expenses related to caring for that child. That means more meals you have to feed them, more diapers you have to use, more clothes and other necessities you buy, etc. That’s not always the case, as you probably well know. I’ve heard PLENTY of stories about dads asking moms to send diapers for the kids, or keeping clothes and toys mom sends for visitation and refusing to send them back. In fact, I even had one case where the parents fought over their child’s winter coat – mom refusing to send the child in it because dad wouldn’t send it back, and dad refusing to take the child without the winter coat, since he wouldn’t bring one to the visitation exchange.
Can I refuse to send items with the children for visitation – diapers, clothes, etc?
You’re not under any legal obligation to provide diapers for your child’s father during his parenting time. That being said, though, you have to be mom. If you have a strong preference, though, you may want to include the specific items your child’s father needs to meet that preference. If you prefer your kiddo wears Honest Company diapers, or your experience leads you to believe that Luvs give your child a diaper rash, well, you do the math.
I’d also send along any “tools” he might need – diaper cream or the hypoallergenic lotion that your child needs, especially if your child has an allergy or something like that which would mean that general or generic products just won’t work. A dad is a dad and a mom is a mom, and each have their place – but you’re only hurting the child by a stubborn refusal to provide items that would make your child’s life easier or better during dad’s parenting time.
That being said, though, many children DO have separate wardrobes at each parent’s house. You are not required to provide all the things to him, or to make your entire house worth of items available. I think that, for bigger ticket items, like bikes, it’s probably best to share back and forth – but for smaller items, like bathing suits or summer shorts, it’s fine to have doubles at each house. Probably best NOT to be nasty about it – and, after all, your children can’t go to visitation exchange naked – if for no other reason than that your kids are watching. Though I have heard plenty of parents just return the children in the clothes they arrived in, so that no other clothes or items exchange hands.
It’s complicated, and there are a lot of issues involved. Probably, you haven’t had to think about most of these things before – and that’s understandable! It’s a good idea to start working through (and preparing for) these issues ahead of time. For more information, or to set up an appointment with our licensed and experienced custody attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.